Sunday, 12 September 2010

East versus west!

A roasting hot day was spent on the beach for my last day, luckily made bearable by a steady breeze. It only took an hour or so to finish my water. Maybe something to do with a long cycle ride beforehand, I wanted to find a further access road so cycled right round to the Batticolao road, only to have second thoughts. I still baked for a few hours, looking well now. My face and torso have gone deeeeep red, which should have browned off nicely in another day. Unfortunately it did, then peeled, so I’m now looking piebald. On the way saw some dung beetles in action. Ace, two working together! The one at the back always seemed to be the smaller, whilst the one at the front wasn’t only pulling. It would climb onto the ball of dung, allowing its weight to gain momentum and make pushing easier for the other. It was a technique I saw practiced by more than one pair. (Photo: Dung beatles - Kalkudha, Sri Lanka)

Brahminy kites and eagles again on the beach, the kites can always be seen once the coconut plantations begin. And it now appears the others have regular perches, they don’t fly much, just hang around under the canopy, overlooking the beach. As I saw last visit, if seeing a kite make a catch they pursue and thieve it off them. Shame I couldn’t get very close for a good picture, they have eyes like a hawk you know. It was one of the longest times I’ve enjoyed the beach without being intruded upon. But I have got my spot, which has proven to be where the big boys hang out. Ox powered carts aren't the norm here any longer, but there are a few left. Tractors are the usual agricultural powerhouses, but you need money for such vehicles and the poor folks don't have access to it. From a young age a prospective team of oxen will be chained together, constantly, to ensure a happy and docile union. (Photo: Large Eagle - Kalkudah beach, Sri Lanka)

But now I have to leave Kalkudah, after over six weeks. I suppose I’ve settled quite well really, there aren’t many points to piss me off. A few times I’ve wished people wouldn’t feel the need to walk hundreds of yard down the beach to merely ask me my name and where I’m from, but there you go, that’s what it’s like being a novelty in a foreign country. Of course I prefer this, it means they aren’t used to tourists, much better than following you all day trying to flog you something. So many of the local kids know me by name, some I can even remember theirs. More than anything, the cheerful disposition of the people has never wavered. Only one disconcerting factor has become apparent, an increase of pleas for money, off some of the kids. Not once has this been the case within the village, only from one small area, just outside the village. A small huddle of fisherman’s huts, hosting a ragtag army of grubby, barefoot kids, are the culprits. I assume these of the poorest families around, they certainly look that way. Their health and hygiene leave a lot to be desired, the women sport gappy smiles, more gap than teeth, whilst a number of the kids have scabby infestations, which don’t appear to be getting treated. First time I passed them it was enough to speak to me, asking if I’d take a picture of the family, which I gladly done. On my return that day, and ever since, they’ve come running out, “money, money, money.” (Photos: 1] Pair of apprentice dray animals; 2] Sunset sky - Kalkudah, Sri Lanka)

And for a nice departure present three of my teeth have fallen out, now I guess there is a definite need to return and get my teeth fixed. Isn’t it funny, on my last day on the east coast, feeling reluctant to leave, wammo! Whenever it had gone it would have been diabolic, now I can’t wait to get to Slovakia again! (Photo: Black Headed Ibis - Kaudulla National Park, Polonawura, Sri Lanka)

It’s a bit of a shame having to run the gauntlet of central and western parts of the island to get back to the airport. In many ways when it’s time to go home it’s just better to get if over and done with. Going via Polonawura may well have given me an opportunity to see more elephants, and some of the most complete ancient ruins on the island. The first I gave my best shot the second I totally ignored the possibility, choosing instead to sit and plough through a book in one day. I haven’t read much, it was a treat. In all honesty I couldn’t be bothered to face with the constant barrage of hassle from Sri Lankan opportunists. It was never like that on the east coast, oh how I miss that simple life, those simple, friendly people. Will that all change once the hoards discover the place? One thing is for sure, the local Tamil population do not want mass tourism now, before they have even had a taste of it there. (Photos: Family outing - Kaudulla National Park, Polonawura, Sri Lanka)

A truly despicable character, bugged me no end on arriving in Polonawura. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and eventually I found the correct way to offend him sufficiently. He was a tuk-tuk driver, yes, the lowest form of life in Asia. I agreed to allow him to show me a hotel, then drop me in town if I didn’t like it. At the second hotel he was still insisting on taking me somewhere else, he was really pushy and was annoying me. Between him and the owner of the second hotel they badgered me on a successive number of occasions, and it didn’t matter how many times I said no they still kept on. The final straw was on my second day there, when the driver had found out which hotel I was staying at. Screwing up his nose in distaste he asked why I stayed at a Muslim owned place, why did I help those people. When questioned, the only explanation he could give was that they ate beef. It only surprised me because he’d claimed to be Singhalese when we’d first meet, showing me pictures of the Buddha in his cab, though accompanied with Hindu deities, but that is quite normal. I’d thought he was Tamil, due to his very dark colour, lighter skin is a status symbol. And it turned out he was Hindu at least, it came as a slight surprise to hear a Hindu calling himself Singhalese, that isn’t normal. Personally I think he was just a dirty, bigoted, lying piece of shit, and told him so. First informing him that I too ate beef and explaining my abhorrence of religious intolerance, or bigotry in general. The disgust on his face when he said about eating beef, they happily eat water buffalo, which is as close to a cow as you could hope to get. And that was my welcome back to the heart of Sri Lanka! (Photo: 1] Running the gauntlet; 2] Evening stroll - Kaudulla National Park, Polonawura, Sri Lanka)

Kaudulla National Park, highly recommended by a number of people, such a shame because it makes me question their integrity. I was not the only one either, though we two whinging Brits could have easily been the point of scorn for those observing us. The elephants were gorgeous in the park, there can be no denying that, it was the mayhem created by the safari operators, the licensed drivers. It wasn’t quite as chaotic as Yala had been, and it was mainly for the elephants that trips were done. But a dozen jeeps plying the grassy plain between the forest and lake was a problem for the elephants. They come out the forest when it gets a touch cooler, but the invasive tactics of getting tourists closer drives them back into the forest. One knobhead could be seen chasing an elephant across the plain, jeep full of Japanese tourists laughing and shouting with excitement, he even drove full speed through a herd of water buffalo. Effectively the intrusive nature of the tours are a nightmare for the elephants, the saving grace is that the park closes at 6pm so the elephants do actually get a chance to drink and bathe in peace. We sat, with our engine switched off and waited patiently to see them emerging from the forest, which they surely did, in large groups. Many were sent dashing back in, trumpeting in alarm, matriarchs trying to form a protective circle round the young, pursued by jeeps full of cheering tourists. It was a disgrace, it sickened me. (Photo: 1] Elephant harassment - Kaudulla National Park, Polonawura; 2] Roadside wildlife- Nr Haberana, Sri Lanka)

It’s not been easy being torn away from the safe haven I found at Kalkudah, it was hard to leave the place and everything since has paled into insignificance. If only I could think of Kalkudah as a future retreat into paradise, but alas it’s not to be. The developers have already started, hotels are being built along the beach at Pasakudah, other developments are now under way along the beach road at Kalkudah. It saddens me, leaving me with gladdened to have enjoyed this patch of paradise before it goes for good. Maybe if Tsunamis were more regular it wouldn’t be such an investment opportunity. (Photo: Prime Tusker - Kaudulla National Park, Polonawura, Sri Lanka)

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